Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Confederacy of Silence

In 1995, as most of the country [not I, btw] was captured by the murder trial of former NFL player O.J. Simpson in Los Angeles, California, the small town of Batesville, Mississippi, had its own trial of a former football player in that of Handy Campbell of Greenwood, Mississippi, in the murder of one of his friends [the trial moved to Batesville, about 75 miles north of Greenwood, because no one in Greenwood seemed unacquainted with either the victim or the defendant].

In his book Confederacy of Silence: A True Tale of the New Old South, published in 2002, Richard Rubin heads south in 1988, as a “cub” reporter for the one newspaper in Greenwood, Mississippi: his primary beat  -- sports. In the football loving Delta, Rubin meets Handy Campbell, an African American quarterbacking phenom, who wows the fans of Greenwood High School as he takes them to a state championship. When Rubin packs his bags to head back north after a year working in Greenwood, Handy’s future seems assured  --  a football scholarship to Old Miss, and after a stint at the collegiate level, the National Football League. 

Six years later, Handy Campbell sits in jail awaiting his trial, and Rubin returns south to investigate what happened in the years in between the state championship and a murder rap. The South that Rubin encounters this time is not the one he left before….and even he was surprised by the changes.

Filled with anecdotes, interviews, personal life narrative, history, social commentary, and well-drawn characters, Rubin’s honesty, direct style, and fascinating look at  this small Southern town stuck in the past held my attention. At times, Rubin’s comments on racism and religion smarts if you care about stuff like that, but his confronting  his own flaws, feelings, prejudices, and perhaps at times, total misunderstanding of situations makes his attempt to make sense of what went wrong palpable.

If you like thorough examination of everything from state roads to murder trials, this book's for you -- Rubin did his research and weaved a fine, but tragic, story.

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